You Can’t Always Judge a Food by Its Cover

Dr. Linda Dahl
3 min readOct 28, 2022
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

It’s easy to make assumptions about the origin of food based on its name. French onion soup, for example, with its caramelized onions and melted Gruyere cheese, is obviously French. Sausage-covered Scotch eggs could only have come from Scotland–who else would claim them? But sometimes names can be misleading. Many popular dishes with foreign-sounding names were actually born on American soil.

English muffins, for example, aren’t English at all. They aren’t even muffins. They were invented by British ex-pat Samuel Thomas Bath in his New York City bakery in 1894 when he exchanged the baking soda in crumpets for yeast. The English weren’t even aware of English muffins until they started importing them from the U.S. in the 1990s. Even so, they don’t call them English. In the U.K. they are sold as American muffins.

Swiss steak, a clever way to dress up a cheap cut of meat, has nothing to do with Switzerland. (I bet you couldn’t pay a Swiss person to eat it.) Swissing means pounding or rolling, which is how the tough meat is tenderized before braising it with vegetables and gravy. The recipe first appeared in an English cookbook in 1915 and rose to popularity in the U.S during World War II, when tender cuts of meat were expensive. Although Swiss steak went on to occupy a prominent partition in TV dinners, it has since gone out of favor.

If you think you’re going to find coconut pecan frosted German chocolate cake in Germany, you’re wrong. The name comes from Sam German, an English-American who invented a sweet baking chocolate for Baker’s chocolate company in 1852. Pleased with his work, the company called his creation “German’s chocolate.” “German’s chocolate cake” got its claim to fame in 1957, when a Texas woman published her now infamous recipe in a Dallas newspaper. Over time, the name lost its apostrophe and gained a new country of origin.

There are also foods so similar to another country’s cuisine, we assume they were imported. Take chimichangas. A Mexican restaurant favorite, they have never even been to Mexico. Although several people lay claim to their invention, the most popular theory involves Monica Flin, a Tucson restauranteur with French parents. As the story goes, when she accidentally dropped a burrito into a vat of hot oil, she yelled “chingada,” a Spanish swear…

--

--

Dr. Linda Dahl

Physician. Author of Tooth and Nail:The Making of a Female Fight Doctor & Better Breastfeeding, http://www.drlindadahl.com @doctorlindadahl